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Focus: UK photonics

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More funding required for growth in UK photonics, say industry experts


n increase in funding and greater confidence in the photonics products made in the UK, were the pleas from

industry experts taking part in a roundtable discussion on the UK photonics industry at Photonex on 16 October. The panellists speaking at the trade fair, which took place in Coventry, UK, also said that ways to bridge the gap between research and industry needed to be addressed for growth in UK photonics. Mark Sims, a professor at the Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester, said: ‘In the end it comes down to funding; there are more ideas than funding.’ Referring to funding for taking research through to commercialisation, he asked for an increase in the UK government’s science budget, which has remained flat since 2011. David Gahan, an industry consultant, commented that there needs to be a shift in where government funding is allocated, giving more emphasis and follow-on funding to prototype products at the more advanced technology readiness levels (TRLs). TRLs are a measure of the maturity of

‘ The UK needs to foster institutes to bridge the gap between research and industry, and UK companies need to have confidence in their products’


new products. Gahan said there was little appreciation of how long it can take for new technology to be fully commercialised and reach the real world. He said that most funding is allocated in the early stages of development – but that only stretches so far, to around TRL4 or TRL5, he said. However, it’s not until TRL7 that a prototype would be demonstrated in a real world environment. It is in these latter stages, from TRL5-6, where there is a lack of financial support, according to Gahan,

and, while Technology Strategy Board (TSB) schemes do provide funding for this purpose, they only go part of the way to address this. Recently, Fianium, based in Southampton,

UK, announced it had won funding from the UK TSB SMART scheme amounting to £1.35 million to further develop the company’s ultrafast and supercontinuum fibre lasers. Anke Lohmann, director of photonics at the Electronics, Sensors, Photonics (ESP) KTN, commented on the gap between manufacturing and academia, which is most marked in the biophotonics sector, she said. According to John Lincoln, CEO of the UK Photonics Leadership Group, the UK doesn’t bridge this gap well. He said Germany covers this gap via the Fraunhofer institutes, while in the US it’s down to confidence in selling its products. ‘In the UK, we have neither,’ Lincoln said. He said the UK needs to foster institutes to bridge the gap between research and industry, and that UK companies need to have confidence in their products. One of the problems with the photonics

sector, which was remarked upon in his introduction by Carlos Lee, director general of the European Photonics Industry Consortium (EPIC), who was chairing the session, is that the term ‘photonics’ is not very well known outside of the industry. Lincoln described it as a ‘hidden technology’. Lincoln said photonics enables everything, but not one single thing, which makes it very difficult to secure funding for. There is funding from the Catapult centres for ‘future cities’, for instance, but not for photonics. However, Lincoln said that this is an opportunity for UK photonic companies, as a lot of photonic technology goes into future cities.

@electrooptics |


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